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"Flexible" is Accessible and Other Accommodation Tips

Our family primarily uses the big lodging sites to find our travel accommodation, and we’re always looking for ways to find better rentals and save a little money.

We use a variety of sites and they all have changed over time - usability features such as easy searching, variety of rentals available, quality of listings, or how they display their pricing. Booking is getting a bit better, VRBO seems to be getting worse. Occasionally Zillow has something interesting… and niche sites like Redweek and FurnishedFinder seem decent if that is what you are looking for (more options listed below).

Regardless, we still find Airbnb is our preferred platform due to its selection, tech, and price… and it just got way better with the new “I'm flexible” functionality.

Airbnb is launching some new features in 2022: automatically translated reviews, internet speed tests for their listings, and the flexible booking option. We’re currently working on our fall travel plans and the “I'm flexible” feature has immensely changed our budget considerations, itinerary, and what we plan on doing… completely for the better.

Our family generally rents by the month, I will talk a bit more about that below, but the “I’m flexible” function works for weekends and weeks too. Although there will be some bugs, the functionality appears to work as expected. You select your destination, time length and other filters, then you highlight all the months within the next year you want to search.

The advantage is this functionality finds all the stray months (or 4-week periods) within the time frame you highlight. So, say a popular rental has one open month from 22 Oct – 20 Nov. in the next year, this exact opening is found and highlighted in your search results. If you put the price filters in place you literally can find the cheapest 1-month rental that fits your criteria within the whole year.

I was flabbergasted by the off-season prices I saw in the countries and regions that we are considering visiting. These are the kind of prices that make me think, "you know, we could wait until November to go there" since the most perfect, bargain house is available if we adjust our schedule.

With the old search methods, I would have only searched for open rentals starting the first few days of October and not found the said ‘perfect house’ open from 22 October through 20 November.

I know some individuals had clever ways to search like this before, but generally it involves manually selecting different start days for a one-month period (i.e search for a month beginning with October 1st and then October 2nd, the 3rd, etc) to try uncovering a place that is booked for the first part of the month but was open from the 22nd onward.

Overall, the “I’m flexible" functionality gives travelers the option to book their trips around the best accommodation openings. We’ll be using this feature extensively when arranging future travels.

Additionally, Airbnb is not the only place to find lodging, here are some of the other booking platforms:

Any other sites that are worth a mention? Please say so in the comments section.

BONUS: Other Accommodation Tips

Here are some common strategies to make lodging platforms work better for you. Some of these may be obvious but they are effective.

Monthly Rentals:

If you are staying less than a week you won't save much, maybe get a bit more for your money than a hotel. But once you cross the barrier for a week or longer, you will usually secure a long-stay discount.

However, monthly rentals can be totally underpriced. I have found some owners either can't do the math or don't want to turn over their places very often. It’s not uncommon to score 40-80% monthly discounts, literally cheaper than booking for only 2-3 weeks. The cleaning fees remain the same for a day or a month so you can amortize that, too.

Monthly rentals allow your family to save some decent money on accommodation as well as plant yourselves for an extended stay and really get to know the area.

Example of Monthly Rental Savings:

Even before “I'm Flexible” began, we went to Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii for 4+ months starting in August 2021. Although lower prices may have been from bad Covid headlines around the time we were booking, we found four places (one 2BR, two 3BR, and one 4BR) ranging US$1700-2200/month including the high taxes and fees. Many weekly condo rentals in Hawaii end up being in that range!

Occasionally there is a small group of places that require a 28–30-day minimum stay. These locations are much less expensive, and we took advantage. Because we were searching often over a period of several weeks some mispriced spots magically appeared. These specific rentals were only available if we were booking for a month or longer…so it’s worth taking a look. You can even book and then leave early once you feel you got your money’s worth from a rental.

New Listings and Booking into the Future:

Check often for new listings as owners typically price them lower before they have any reviews or history. We recently stayed in the Florida Keys for a month in a beautiful house that we got for a song. We were scanning the rental market daily and a new listing came up out of the blue at less than half of normal rates.

These options do carry more risk (especially because you won’t see any reviews about the status of the mattresses or WiFi), but the discounts can be huge! Typically, the owners are very flexible and accommodating as they want early guests to have a great experience to build up reviews.

We love having flexibility in our travel, but if you know you are going somewhere 6-12 months out, start looking now and search often. It is amazing some of the deals you see, even in popular places.

Work with the Existing Booking Calendar:

Owners can be accommodating and willing to bargain. This is especially promising when there are calendar gaps, say 36 days open in between bookings or 4 stray days after a popular holiday weekend. Try negotiating a price for filling up days between existing bookings or during unpopular off-season times.

Work with the Owners:

We haven't done this much, but we have friends, who if they are going to a place like London, will contact 20 owners and say will you take xxx amount?? and then throw out an offer that fits their budget. Typically 10-15% respond either outright accepting or with a counter offer. This strategy works better in the shoulder season than high seasons.

Ask for Adjustments to your Terms:

I know the booking engines wouldn't necessarily like this, but we often get to be decent friends with our hosts. If it’s a place we like and wish to stay again, we ask to pay off-the-platform and offer cash prices for a secondary visit.

We’ve also asked for adjustments to the cancellation and check in policies. Many owners are willing to work with you, especially if you have a long-standing, positive presence on the platform. It never hurts to ask.

I hope these tips have been helpful and that you have some fun with the “I’m flexible” search. I would love to learn more about other useful features or ideas for using booking engines more effectively. Any other suggestions, please leave us a note in the comments!

And as always, if you're looking for a place to land and explore with other worldschoolers... check our calendar:

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